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Apple brandy was probably used during the Napoleonic wars as both an antiseptic and anaesthetic. It was certainly supplied to many of the French ships for their sailors when they called into the Normandy ports. The appellation “Calvados” however, is a much more modern term officially given in 1942 (although the name was given to a Normandy department in 1790). Driving from the Normandy ports in a southerly direction one passes the apple and pear orchards of the top cru, Pays d’Auge, a land famous for its cheese and cidre, the basis of the calvados spirit. Like cognac, calvados must be double-distilled in pot stills and aged in oak casks. The industry is small and has not grown significantly since the war, so vintages are relatively scarce. Anything made before 1960 is considered “old”.
A range of different apples are used initially to create the finest cidre – bitter, bitter sweet, acidic and sweet. These apples have low levels of acidity so small, firm, Perry pears are also added. This addition, usually 12 – 15 % of the total, is essential as it increases the acidity of the cidre to the level required for distillation. Therefore some calvados, especially young ones, can have a pear drop taste which many people dislike. With long barrel ageing this is significantly reduced because the calvados builds a richness which masks the pungency of the Perry pear. Another method of masking this flavour is to harvest only naturally fallen apples which have started to go brown. At this stage the water content of the apple has dropped and the sugar content is at its highest. These apples produce a sweeter cider and ultimately a sweeter calvados, with baked apple aromas and flavours.
At Brandyclassics we only stock Pays d’Auge calvados which has been well-aged. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find rare, vintage calvados.